Defending The Nickname Trend

One of my sister’s books

One of the biggest responses I’ve seen with the release of the new England&Wales data is concerning the number of so-called nicknames dominating our popular names, for example 4 of the name in our Top 10 for boys have origins as nicknames – Harry, Jack, Alfie & Charlie.

One comment that stood out to me in particular was this:

I don’t see anything classier about nickname names than modern constructions. Alfie and Charlie can go sit in the corner with Jayden and Addison as far as I am concerned. 

As a Brit, I feel I need to talk about the subject, and almost defend our plentiful usage of nicknames. I do truly believe that there are plenty of fabulous reasons to why registering your son as Charlie, not Charles is the way to go.

I would admit right here, right now that some of these reasons have a slant towards a British playground, because it’s clear that a nickname on the birth certificate will always work better in a country where it’s a commonplace practice. Also, I’m not necessarily saying that the nickname trend is without it’s faults, but there are also a few faults with the idea of not allowing nicknames on birth certificates too.

I guess, at the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal discretion and perhaps the way forward takes a little from each side.

That said, I still managed to put together 10 potential reasons why you may chose to use Charlie over Charles.

1. Many nicknames are taken as they are these days, rather than being assumed to be short for something

Plenty of so-called nicknames are these days taken as they are, without people wondering what on earth Alfie is short for, because hey, there are plenty more Alfies running around the park these days than Alfreds. 

This of course, is a more cultural based argument, because I’m sure in some places Henry is more popular than Harry (hello USA) and there will always be exceptions depending on where you live.

Suffice to say however, the chances of someone asking your child what Harry is short for has become rather more slight as years have gone by. One could even argue that it would be Henry nn Harry that would attract raised eyebrows in a quaint English nursery, rather than a kid who is just simply Harry.

2. Using a formal name and a nickname simultaneously can cause confusion

Did you watch the closing ceremony for the 2012 Olympics? If you watched close enough, you’d have noticed that Prince Harry was introduced as Prince Henry of Wales, and Twitter almost exploded with people calling out the gaffe. What they failed to realise is that Prince Harry is indeed called Henry, but since birth has gone almost exclusively by Harry. 


That’s perhaps a rather more high profile case, but I also have personal experience of this too. My mother has a cousin named Maeve, who goes by Marie.

However, I needed my Nana to confirm this one to me because when my mother had mentioned her a week earlier, she then had to add on that she had no idea whether her cousin’s ‘real’ name is Maeve or Marie because she’s always answered to both.

3. Nicknames lend themselves nicely to simplicity-seekers

This acts as an extension of #2, and comes with another tale from my own life.

I know a family of three children named Amy, Tom & Mia; the parents purposefully chose to stick to 3-letter names because of the perceived complexity of their surname, which is no less than 9-letters in total (of course, my surname has 8 letters but that didn’t stop my parents using Heather). In their quest for shortness, they ended up using two nicknames (Tom&Mia) and a name commonly used as a nickname (Amy). 

And you know what? It totally works for them.

Juggling a formal name and a nickname may not be the way for some, who’d prefer to just pick one name and stick with it, in which case, Archie rocks.

4. Swapping from Charlie to Charles isn’t so easy

I wasn’t particularly old when I decided to start using Lou instead of Lucy, but by then I’d already built up a core group of friends. What this means is that I’m not exclusively called Lou, so answer to both names on a daily basis. As far as I can tell, only great determination on my part will remedy this, and really, I’m far too laid back to actually force people to switch to using Lou. In which case, it’s likely only me that has this problem 🙂

5. Some people just don’t like the formality of a ‘proper’ name

I have a friend with the name Caroline, and she hates it. To her, Caroline is the name of a middle-aged lady and the reasoning that hey, Caroline is more professional than Carly just doesn’t go down well with her.

I have to agree with her, saying a lady named Maisie won’t get a job in, say, politics smacks of elitism to my ears. Then again, this is the country that elected this man as the mayor of our capital city:

Boris Johnson, dancing to the Spice Girls. And yes, that is our PM two seats along.

In a similar vein, I saw an argument the other day that someone wouldn’t want to trust their brain with a neurosurgeon called Katie, which I found to be a little bit extreme. Let’s face facts, young Katie has already sat through many vigorous tests to prove she’s a capable neurosurgeon, so there’s really no reason to doubt her expertise. I can speak from personal experience, because one of my GPs is actually called Katie, and it’s never once crossed my mind that I should be doubting her advice because of her name. That said, another GP at our surgery is called Dr. Bond…

And, point of fact, a new show started up on the BBC called Bad Education, where the main character, a teacher, is called Alfie. That said, the lead character of Alfie is described in the press release as the worst teacher to ever (dis)grace a British education institution. But then we have the half-decent biology teacher called Rosie…

6. Some people just plain don’t like Thomas

And by some people, I’m including myself in there, too. I adore the name Tommy, mostly because of early days spent watching Rugrats, but hey, can you think of another name to take Tommy from as a nickname? The best I could come up with was Thompson, or maybe Bartholomew at a push, but I somewhat doubt that the parents using Tommy will go for Bartholomew.

The idea of making people put a name on a birth certificate they just plain don’t like, so they can then call their child another much-loved name is borderline ludicrous when you think about it. Who are we to dictate what someone else wants to call their child? There’s also no guarantee that little Tommy will want to be called Thomas when he grows up, and Tommy can always shorten to Tom should he really not want to use Tommy.

7. Not all nicknames are cutesy, whilst some cutesy names aren’t nicknames

Sometimes people seem to forget this, and whilst yes there are plenty of nicknames with the cutesy factor, there are plenty more that forgo this. Think Sam, Max and Jack as examples.

Thinking about the opposite, two names in our Top 100 are Daisy (#20) and Maisie (#22). Whilst Maisie has origins as a nickname, Daisy is a perfectly coined floral name. Perhaps this is personal opinion, but I think both are as cutesy as the other, but if we follow the proper-names-on-birth-certificates-only rule, Daisy would be perfectly acceptable, but not Maisie?

Of course, you could argue that Daisy is also too cutesy to be a formal name anyway, at which point I throw my arms up in the air with despair.

8. You don’t know your child’s opinion of their name ahead of time

Remember Caroline from #5? She’s back, because she helps demonstrate this point too; indeed, let’s also bring back Amy, Tom & Mia from point #3. Caroline hates having a formal name, whilst Mia dislikes the cutesy-nickname factor of her name.

The basic point: some people actually like having nicknames on their passport. It’s all a matter of opinion.

9. You may not realise that names like Polly started off life as nicknames

I once posted a question on Formspring asking people what their favourite form of Mary was, and alongside the question I listed various names that stem from Mary. One such name was Polly, and this was called out by one commentee asking how on Earth Polly could be related to Mary. Why, she’s an old nickname for Mary, of course – but should we still be insisting that it’s Mary nn Polly?

10. Some legit proper names are often used as nicknames

Let’s use my name, and Anna as examples here. Some people use Lucy as a nickname for names like Lucille, whilst Anna is a popular nickname choice for Annabel, amongst others. However, both are proper names in their own right, and people seem to forget this – especially when it comes to Lucy. Adding Molly to the sibset of Lucy & Anna doesn’t exactly seem as if it strays off the path, stylewise.

So, there we have it. Feel free to disagree, hey, we’ve all got differing opinions and that’s what makes life so great.

Categories: Nicknames | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Defending The Nickname Trend

  1. Emily

    I am so with you on this! Every time I hear comments like the ones you quoted I can only sigh. There are some downright elitist snobs in the name nerd community, that’s for sure. Many of them frequent Nameberry. Do people not realize how prejudiced and hateful they sound when they say things like “I would never go to a neurosurgeon named Charlie!” and scoff? Umm… don’t you refer to your doctor as Dr. LastName anyway?

    I love the nickname names. It’s so British to me. I must be a Brit at heart, because I’m firmly team “name them what you’re going to call them.” What’s the point of having Eleanora on the birth certificate if you’re always going to call her Ellie and never Eleanora? Some will argue so that she will have a “professional” name to go by later on. What if Ellie doesn’t go into a professional field? And who exactly gets to decide what is and is not professional?

    Sorry for my mini rant, but that first comment just blew me away. Why would that person punish Alfie, Charlie, Jayden, and Addison for their names? We’re putting children in corners now because their names aren’t to our particular taste? What bitter hearts some people have.


  2. Elea

    I think that we’ve got to a point where these names are so prominent many Brits don’t actually realise that they are “traditional nicknames”. I know many people who are completely unaware of the relationship between Harry/Henry, Jack/John, Maisy/Margaret, Molly/Mary, Archi/Archibald etc.


  3. Hmm, let me guess …. the people who said this were American?

    The reason is they went totally bananas on nicknames for about 60 years plus, and now they have either sickened themselves by gorging on them, or they seem like those rather embarrassing things ones does in one’s extreme youth and would rather forget about, like carrying a blanky everywhere.

    The only problem I have with it is they always try and come up with some fancy explanation of why it’s wrong and nobody else should do it either. Which is like me trying to claim I don’t eat gingerbread because of the gluten or something and nobody should eat it, when the real reason is I ate too much of it and made myself ill.

    This does make me wonder if the UK might also go off them in a big way, should the nickname trend continue there for several more decades.

    Anyway, you are 100% right on all counts – the thing about not going to a doctor or surgeon called Charlie or Katie is patently absurd. The last time I had a medical procedure in hospital, I only met the surgeon for about 5 minutes before going into the operating theatre, and I have no idea what her name was – even if she told me, I was out of my head on pre-anaesthetic by then. Could have been Katie, could have been anything. I was in no position to say, “Hey I don’t like your name, please don’t operate on me”.


  4. I’m also on team “name them what you’re going to call them” (and I’m American! LOL) My second daughter is named Sosie, which is a nickname for Susannah or Sosannah. Well – I don’t really love the name Susannah and I knew that I would never ever call her that. So I named her Sosie. I have yet to be asked what it’s short for… most people say they’ve “never heard” the name before.

    It does seem especially silly with John vs. Jack and Henry vs. Harry. In both cases the names are exactly the same length and are all in popular use. It would be very confusing to me, and I’m a “name nerd.” I tried to explain to my husband once how Daisy is a nickname for Margaret and he looked at me like I had two heads.


  5. Cilla

    I agree with you my brothers are Archibald, Charles and Alfred and have gone by Archie, Charlie and Alfie ever since I can remember and my sisters is a Margaret and Mildred and they hate it and go by Maisie and Millie. My daughters are Miette and Ruby and at nameberry people suggested Jemima nicknamed Miette and to me that doesn’t make sense. I also hated my name Priscilla and go by Cilla or Bunny (bunny because it was the name of my best friends rabbit). I can’t go by middle name as it is Jessica and I don’t really like common names, Ruby is my exception. My brother is actually a doctor Archie lastname and and no one does not take him seriously. My other brothers are police officers Alfie and Charlie no one does not take them seriously it is ridiculous. I would prefer to be a Cilla then a Priscilla or a Jack then a John.


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